Council of Europe votes to downgrade status of Turkey’s democracy

By Independent Turkey

The prospects of Turkey joining the European Union have been put further in doubt after key institution votes to restart close monitoring of democracy in the country.

The plenary chamber of the Council of Europe’s Palace of Europe. Source: Adrian Grycuk

The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has voted to reopen its monitoring procedures regarding Turkey, stressing the need for engagement to ensure the protection of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in the country.

The decision comes after the recent referendum on expanding presidential powers was criticised by a delegation observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which works closely with the Council of Europe.   

Cezar Florin Preda, a member of PACE who headed the OSCE delegation, stated that “in general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards. The legal framework was inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic process.”

PACE has now gone further, raising a whole series of concerns about the government’s response to last July’s failed coup and the ongoing conflict with armed Kurdish militants in the south-east.  

In particular, the assembly criticised the use of executive powers under the ongoing state of emergency to “silence any critical voices and create a climate of fear among ordinary citizens, academics, independent non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the media”.

The move is a further blow for relations between Turkey and the European Union, which regards meeting Council of Europe standards as a prerequisite for membership.

Up until this point, Turkey had been at PACE’s post-monitoring dialogue stage, which was reached in 2004 after political reforms were accelerated by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

But the downgrade in Turkey’s status is likely to raise further questions about the future of Turkey’s EU accession, particularly after President Erdoğan again raised the prospect of reintroducing the death penalty in what would be a serious contravention of Council of Europe directives.    

In their report, which formed the basis of PACE motion, co-rapporteurs for Turkey Marianne Mikko and Ingebjørg Godskesen stressed that the reopening of the monitoring process was not a punitive measure, but rather an attempt to establish a strengthened dialogue with the Turkish government.

However, government figures in Ankara have reacted angrily, claiming that the decision was politically motivated. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated that growing Islamophobia in Europe had influenced the passing of the PACE resolution.

While EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik called the decision a ‘historical’’ mistake and a sign that Europe was taking an ‘exclusionist attitude’ towards Turkey.  

Meanwhile, Amnesty International welcomed PACE’s decision as sending “a clear and powerful message that Turkey must end its crackdown on human rights”.  Turkey is the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with more than 120 currently imprisoned.  

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